Spiritual Growth Within a Catholic Family, Part One
Long ago, our first house had a growth chart on the inside of a bedroom door. Now
and again, we’d line up our three little children and place a ruler atop their heads.
Then we’d pencil a line alongside their respective heights, along with the date, and
their initials – marking growth over time.
Something happened in the life of my youngest son, Peter, recently that reminded
me of that old chart on the door. It also made me realize that I’ve had an invisible
growth chart for this young man, and my other two children, that I have been slowly
adding milestones to… let’s call it a Catholic Growth Chart.
The Catholic Growth Chart that I have in mind records the spiritual milestones of
each of my children, over 25 years of parenting. Each of them has had very different
paths, but each of them has been the recipients of many prayers we, their parents,
have lifted to heaven on their behalf, and most especially this: that they would know,
love, and serve the Lord. Our prayers have been that the Lord would bring about
early conversions for each of them.
Last February, I picked Peter up from the airport when he was coming home from
college for a break in the semester. This son, Peter — the youngest of my three and
the last one we’re getting through college — asked what I was doing lately, and I
told him. I also happened to mention that I was renewing my Consecration to Jesus
through Mary with a group of women I knew. He perked up and said, “You mean,
using the book from St. Louis de Montfort? So am I!”
Really, I said, marveling slightly as his announcement warmed my heart. I urged him
to continue. He said, and I’m paraphrasing, “I attend a university in the shadow of
the country’s largest Shrine dedicated to the Blessed Mother, so I figured I ought to
get to know her better. One night as I was praying in the chapel, I asked the Lord
to show me how to get closer his Mother. The next moment, a young woman came
into the chapel to retrieve a book she had left behind in the pew. It was the booklet
that describes preparation for consecration.” And that was that. Peter celebrated his
consecration to Jesus through Mary on what also happened to be his 19 th birthday,
March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation.
The spiritual milestones of our children’s lives began with their baptism. It
slowly advanced with each of the sacraments that they made. In between those
sacramental milestones, there’s a world of spiritual territory that we’ve traversed.
And while we don’t make pencil marks on a door, or keep report cards, my husband
and I were privileged to watch souls take shape and grow in our home. As parents,
we spent a lot of time doing what we could to influence that growth both directly
But every now and then, we see a shining moment — a defining moment – when one
of our children chooses Christ – growing as Catholic Christians – by yielding more
and more to Him. These are the moments you pray for. Very few can be scheduled.
Most are unpredictable, surprising, and happen as the Holy Spirit wills. But almost
all of them can be prepared for.
We’ve prepared our children as best as we can for such times, often deliberately.
Just as we’ve been called to be role models for them, we’re called to educate them
in three areas: daily life, academic life, and spiritual life. We often know what to
do with the first two areas, but the spiritual life sometimes seems a little harder to
articulate. This is the life of grace, of sanctity, of holiness. It is training a child not
only in the basic knowledge of the faith, but calling them toward an interior life with
(In next month’s article I’d like to talk about some of the spiritual practices we’ve
used in our home, but in this first article, I’d like to articulate the context in which
I have to say that much of the grace to bear and raise these children can be found
within the graces of the Sacrament of Matrimony. For us, it all started way back
when, when my husband and I said, “I do” at the altar. Bob and I not only vowed our
lives to one another, we also pledged our lives to the future children God might send
us – promising to lovingly raise them in the Faith. That seems like ancient history
now as we approach our 30th year together, but looking back, our shared faith and
the grace from the Sacrament of Marriage allowed us to realize the tremendous gift
we had in each other, and the vocational call to act on it. We were both committed,
practicing Catholics, and in time, God blest us with a family. Then we began to truly
understand the fullness of our vows.
We truly embraced our role as the primary educators our children. As guardians
of three young souls, we set goals and developed a family lifestyle that reflected
our Catholic faith. Without knowing it, we were setting up a Catholic Growth Chart
for each of our children, patterns of life that reflected what the Church calls “the
Through the years we didn’t expect others to teach our children the Faith. They
heard it from us first. We made conscious efforts to teach our children the tenets
of the Faith, as individuals and, at times, together with their peers or school
friends when it came to preparation for sacraments. Our goal was that when
other catechists came into their lives – be they priests, school teachers, religious
educators, youth ministers, or significant adults – the teaching our children heard
was not foreign, but simply a reinforcing of what is already commonly known to
them. Or, in the opposite case, where our children’s faith was challenged, they would
be able to discern what is outside of the Church’s faith and moral standards.
Perhaps the most difficult of all our parenting lessons was learning that we are in
authority over our children. We had to be the grown-ups. And while that extends to
all the areas in which a parent might nurture and raise a child, it makes particular
sense in the spiritual realm.
There’s a principle of obedience in operation that is often unspoken: If children can’t
listen and mind their parents, they may never listen to and mind God. And while to
some that may seem a bit harsh, it really puts the burden on us parents to love our
children the way God love us. It’s authoritative, as in leadership that can be trusted,
and that’s very different than being authoritarian. It calls us to be a loving parent
who has the child’s best interest at heart.
Of course, fostering Catholic growth in our children presumes that we have a faith
life of our own and are actively living it. This alone keeps us honest. My husband
and I are trying to help each other get to Heaven. And we long to help our children
get there with us. That is our goal, but it is often hard to practice it each day. Human
frailties often beset our best intentions. We cannot share what we do not have, and
sometimes what we do have is kept hidden by our selfishness. But we keep trying.
That’s part of the beauty of the Christian life, that we can always have hope that we
can attain the grace to overcome our sinful failings.
We are praying and practicing to be a holy influence for our children. Over the last
ten years, as our children entered the teen years and beyond, we’ve been trying to
faithfully make a holy hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament each week, outside
of Mass. We also do spiritual reading, sharing some of those things we are learning
with our family. These are just small ways, that while leading our family, we meet
the daily challenge to live individual lives of sanctity. So, we stay close to the
sacraments. We pray at home daily, and attend Sunday Mass every week, making it a
Raising the next generation of faith-filled Catholics isn’t easy, and at times, the
advancing secular culture has really made things difficult for parents. There’s no
time to sit out, for it’s a battle for hearts and minds, and ultimately, for souls. But
we persevered when they were little, and still we continue to this day to find ways
to lead, trust, guide, teach, admonish, share, and forgive them, and even, to forgive
We are Catholic parents. We made a vow. Giving our children opportunities for
Christian growth while they are still under our roof is our priority. For one day –
and I don’t mean to oversimplify this – but one day, when my husband and I meet
our Father in Heaven, he’ll be doing a little measuring of his own.
Copyright 2012 Pat Gohn